Ethan Stowell doesn't need an introduction. He's got five restaurants, including Ballard Pizza Company; a new casual Italian trattoria expected to open this summer; a line of fresh pasta; a cookbook; and a consulting gig with Centerplate helping to bring fresh and local food to Safeco field. What most people don't know about him is the work he and his wife, Angela, do to bring mainstream attention to fetal disease. Last summer, the couple lost their identical twin boys (Gabriel and Nathanael) to twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome, which prompted the Stowells to get involved with fundraising efforts to bring awareness to a cause that is close to their heart. Most notably, the couple has launched Eat. Run. Hope. -- a 5k walk, run, and eating extravaganza to help raise money for the Fetal Hope Foundation. Today, Ethan is sharing his story, which he openly admits he's still not totally comfortable doing.
Angela and I definitely do a fair amount of traveling. It was sort of our goal to see as much of the world as we could before we had kids. That's kind of a big hobby of ours--just to go check stuff out, whether it's a three-hour drive to the peninsula or a trip to Amsterdam.
How often are you traveling?
I would say, as far as out-of-state trips, probably four or five a year, which is nice. Overseas trips, probably two a year, so we probably spend about a month overseas every year. It's fun to check out different cultures and see how they eat and how they live and how they get around; to see how they serve people and what music they listen to and all that stuff. It's pretty cool.
A couple of years ago, our plan was to go to Vietnam and Thailand. We still want to go back to Cambodia, which would be cool, but Vietnam was just about the best vacation ever. Going to Italy as much as possible has been great. My wife loves going to Paris, which, you know, sounds very snobby. We found out [traveling] is a really good break--you really get some nice perspective about the work you do at home. In general, food in Seattle is way better than it is in Paris or Rome or wherever, that's my personal take on it. But, yeah, traveling was all based around kids. Last summer we ended up having stillborn identical twins and so we started working on projects for Fetal Hope Foundation to keep their memory alive. In April, we did a 5k run and walk--we're going to do that every year. It's something we do to bring the community together. I think going forward it's going to be our event we do each year. This year, we had a lot of fun and a lot of great restaurants and people came out to support us. The restaurant industry really rallied and helped out.
How did you hear about Fetal Hope?
When you go through something like what we went through, you go down different avenues to try and find support. We found them and thought it was a really cool organization that was really doing some great stuff for something that people don't really know about or don't realize how big of a problem it is. The guys who started [Fetal Hope] are very much into it being a 100-percent non-profit organization and just trying to help families out.
Their main mission is to help assist people who have gone through a fetal loss. They're mission is to put people in contact with the correct doctors for what they need. Fetal disease is something that does affect a lot of people and it's one of those things that when you're pregnant and something happens, everything starts moving really fast. Everything is so stressful and everything is coming at you at the speed of light, oftentimes, you just need someone to help you out and tell you what to do next. We're very fortunate here in Seattle because health care is very important and there's a lot of support out here. That's not the case in other parts of the country. Fetal Hope helps process the information for you and tells you what you need to do and where to go. Most likely, your specialist isn't going to be as convenient as Kirkland was for us [ed note: the Stowell's went to Evergreen Hospital Medical Center], so you have to travel. The Fetal Hope Foundation wants to help people get the information they need in the time they need it. Also, not everyone has adequate funds to make it happen, so they assist with that. They also assist with travel arrangements, interviews, appointments and things like that.
At what point did you become comfortable talking about the loss of your twins?
I still don't know if we're fully comfortable, but it's one of those things where you look at it and realize that we went through something and it was hard and we want people to know that fetal disease and fetal problems do exist. I think awareness is knowledge and it's baby steps. And there's that whole thing about talking about it that does help. The thing is, if you're out there trying to make a difference it does help. For us, it's an important part of keeping our boys alive.
When you say 'fetal disease,' is that all-encompassing?
Fetal disease is definitely all-encompassing. It's anything that can happen to a baby while it's still in the womb. For us, it was twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome. It's something that can only happen to identical twins.
Identical twins are set up as two babies, two amniotic sacs, two umbilical cords and one placenta, so they're basically sharing a feeding supply. So, one baby was taking more of the amniotic fluid, which is their food supply, than the other one. The one taking more food grows faster and stronger and the smaller baby just can't keep up. That's what happened with our boys.
Is there anything doctors can do to prevent that from happening?
There is some stuff. We didn't get to the point where it was possible. We were literally like two days away from that. There's laser surgery to make the larger baby's feeding supply a little bit smaller, but all of that is very risky; it's very challenging and very specialized. Where we went was Evergreen Hospital Medical Center and they're the specialists in that. We were fortunate to have them within driving distance of Seattle, but a lot of people aren't and that's where Fetal Hope Foundation comes in.
How long does it take you to plan a fundraiser like Eat. Run. Hope.?
The majority of it was done by Angela and the Fetal Hope Foundation, which we partner with. My job was to get the chefs on-board and organize food and some prizes and things like that. My job was the fun part. But it definitely takes several months, no doubt about it. Angela was working on it here-and-there for about six months before it happened. It's more of a tipping of the hat to my wife than it is to me.
How much money did you raise?
I think after all expenses, about $60,000 went to the foundation, which is pretty cool.
We don't know about that. We want to do as many charity events as we possibly can and obviously a focus of Fetal Hope Foundation is important to us--that's why [Eat. Run. Hope.] will be our main thing. But, also, arts are a big part of my background [ed note: Ethan's parents have deep roots in the Pacific Northwest Ballet] so we don't want to forget that and there's always schools and education to help out; you want to do as much as you can along the way.
Were you surprised by how many local industry folks stepped up to help with Eat. Run. Hope.?
This may sound bad, but I wasn't surprised at all. I know the restaurant industry. The restaurant industry is such a great community. It literally took me five minutes of phone calls and everyone jumped on board. That's one great thing about the restaurant industry: they jump to help people real fast. Everyone who came out, it wasn't even a question. They were super nice.
If you could take a trip right now, where would you go?
I tend to like vacation spots where it doesn't cost you a lot of money to go. For us, we know a bunch of people in Italy, so that never ends up being a huge sum of money. So, Cambodia would be cool. After that, I don't think we'd mind going somewhere sunny.
How has all this travel affected how you cook?
I gotta tell you. The more I travel and the more I see how the rest of the world eats, the more I find that the actual experience of people at a table hanging out with their friends is so much more important than the food.